On Saturday, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern.
In a statement, WHO’s Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said that the virus had “spread rapidly to many countries that have not seen it before” and that there was a “clear risk of further international spread.”
In a month’s time, the disease has spread to at least 75 countries that have reported more than 16,000 cases, and has caused five deaths.
The declaration makes monkeypox, polio, and COVID-19 the three ongoing public health emergencies facing the world.
Ghebreyesus overruled a committee of advisers who were unable to reach a consensus on whether the outbreak represented a global public health emergency.
“We have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly, through new modes of transmission, about which we understand too little, and which meets the criteria in the International Health Regulations,” Ghebreyesus said. “For all of these reasons, I have decided that the global monkeypox outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern.”
The US has seen surging monkeypox cases since the first confirmed case May, with more than 2,800 cases across 46 states. Protests for vaccine and testing access took place in New York on Thursday as people — particularly LGBTQ individuals — raised their concerns over the poor federal response in providing care and information.
“Although I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern, for the moment this is an outbreak that is concentrated among men who have sex with men, especially those with multiple sexual partners,” Ghebreyesus said in his statement. “That means that this is an outbreak that can be stopped with the right strategies in the right groups.”
However, he emphasized that “stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus” and that communities should work on fighting against the stigma.
Communication over what monkeypox is has been overwhelming and confusing, particularly as initial cases have been largely among men who have sex with men.
“I rely on mutual aid networks and queer party group chats that have suddenly become monkeypox support groups,” Ariel Friedlander, a protestor in New York told BuzzFeed News on Thursday.